|READY, AIM, FIRE: Maoists with M-36, INSAS, M-16 and AK-47 assault rifles prepare to fire off a six-gun salute on 24 November at the Chitwan cantonment in the presence of UN monitors.|
On the week that the winter session of parliament was getting ready to meet again after a ten day recess, the Maoists celebrated PLA Day at the UN-supervised cantonment in Shaktikhor in Chitwan.
There was an armed marchpast and a seven-gun volley from automatic weapons-all in the presence of the UNMIN adviser on arms management, Brigadier General Jan Erik Wilhelmsen, who listened as Pushpa Kamal Dahal warned that his force could "go back to the jungle".
Whether the cantonment sabre rattling on 25 November fell within the parameters of the comprehensive peace agreement is moot because the UN was there. But it underlined the fact that the Maoists are still openly on the dual track of using the threat of violence while ostensibly in the parliamentary process.
By late Thursday, as this edition went to press, there were indications the seven parties were nearing an agreement. But one party leader cautioned the Maoists could still come up with new conditions.
UML leader KP Oli says it is clear why: "The Maoist strategy is to foil elections at all costs." But other UML and NC figures believe the Maoists can be brought around. "We mustn't give them the excuse to go back to war," the NC's Mahesh Acharya told us.
Prime Minister Koirala met Baburam Bhattarai and Pushpa Kamal Dahal on Monday and Koirala came out of that meeting saying he was optimistic the Maoists were not against elections per se. But his problem remained convincing his party\'s rightwing to opt for a republic.
The compromise hammered out on Thursday was to have 60-40 proportional represenation in elections, but for a 600-member house in which 240 members would still be elected directly. There was also agreement on having a commitment for republic in the interim constitution to be ratified by the elected assembly.
The UML leader regarded as being closest to the Maoists, Bamdeb Gautam, told Nepali Times: "The two parliamentary directives must be set in motion, if the Maoists don't go for elections even after that then they'll be wiped out."
The NC's Narhari Acharya summed it up: "The Maoists are running out of options, they can either go back to the jungle or compromise."